Thursday, April 7, 2011
My first day in the kitchen was a three hour trial run. I arrived with a stomach full of jitters. I didn't know what to expect and I had doubts- many, many doubts. When I walked in, I was greeted with a warm smile by the head of the kitchen. She gave me a quick walk around. I was surprised at how quiet the kitchen was. No one was rushing or screaming. The three women on shift that day were just cooking. Calmly. Competently. I took a deep breath- sure the counters were gleaming metal, and the pots were big enough to hide in, but other than that (and the strange looking machine in the corner, which I was soon to find out is an industrial food processor) it was just a kitchen. I can do kitchens.
"So," C said, "you want to work?"
"Sure," I answered, though I was decisively not sure.
And that's how I found myself staring at a sink full of dirty fennel waiting to be washed, trimmed and prepped. It was more fennel than I had ever been confronted with before in my life. All the fears and doubts that I had tamped down rose up into my throat. I picked up a bulb of fennel. It was almost too large to fit into my palm, but it felt familiar. I thought of my friend and former roommate who taught me to eat fennel sliced thin and doused in fresh lemon juice. I thought of my friend Sweet Amandine's roasted carrot and fennel soup. The bulb smelled slightly sweet and green. I took another deep breath. I got to work.
I used to be one of those people who hated fennel. In general, I'm not so fond of licorice and fennel always tasted like licorice to me. But then my roommate, who pretty much ate only raw vegetables, (not on principle, mind you, she just liked raw vegetables) somehow convinced me to taste her fennel salad. Fennel with lemon juice, salt and pepper- a slight sweetness under a wave of lemon. That's all it was. I was converted. I ate fennel that way for years and never considered doing anything else with it. Well, then came the soup- the soup that has converted many a fennel-hater. The soup that has convinced me that the only right thing to do with carrots is to roast them (excepting carrot cake with cream cream cheese frosting, of course). I adore that soup. But this is not a post about that soup. This is a post about braised fennel.
I don't remember why I went looking for a recipe for braised fennel. I think, perhaps, I was looking for something to do with a lot of fennel- too much for salad or soup, and I'm pretty much obsessed with braising. It's my default mode. This recipe has five ingredients and three steps, but the results are so elegant one would think it had many more. The fennel mellows as it cooks and just sort of melts into the white wine and tomatoes. I served it with fish. You can serve it with whatever you'd like.
Braised Fennel and Tomatoes
From the lovely Sunday Suppers
The recipe calls for 4 bulbs of fennel. I had 6, so I upped the recipe appropriately. It came out just fine.
4 fennel bulbs
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 onion, thinly sliced
6 tomatoes, halved and seeded
1 1/2 cups white wine
salt and pepper
Quarter the fennel, leaving the cores intact. Saute the onions and garlic until soft and translucent. Add the tomatoes, fennel, white wine and salt and pepper. Stir and simmer for 35 to 40 minutes until the fennel is soft and can be pierced with a knife. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.